RIP Paul William Roberts

I am deeply saddened to announce that my husband, Paul William Roberts, passed away suddenly on May 17, 2019. He died at home of a brain haemorrhage which lead to a stroke, it all happened very quickly and he seemed to pass away in his sleep. When I am feeling able to say more in his honour I will post here. I will be holding a Memorial celebration on June 15 at our home in the Laurentians. If you would like to attend or submit a remembrance for his Memorial to be read, you may email me at artist@karawilliams.com

A bit of good news for his readers, Paul continued writing prolifically and bravely despite his blindness. He was unable to publish his works and I do not have the wherewithal to try to get them published, but I will be releasing them either on this blog or in e-book format in coming years.

~Kara Williams

Please see the video of our friend, MP David Graham paying tribute to him in Parliament on May 18.

You Say You Want a Revolution…

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Old patient communists in Paris are wondering if their time has finally come, Not since 1968 has there been so much fierce resistance to a system known as status quo. And this is not a trivial issue of girls being allowed to sleeo with boys – the spark igniting ’68. This is fundamental, a 21st century bread riot about the unaffordable cost of living. Perhaps the dismay over what little has been done about climate change is in there too? But this wave will spread, is already spreading, breaking on other shores with similar concerns as well as ones of their own. It will soon be here, if Carnarcosis wakes up to smell the price of coffee. Cheerfully, so it seemed, we heard today that food prices will rise dramatically next year. Perhaps to head off vegans who imagine it won’t affect them, an emphasis was placed on steep rises in the cost of fruits and vegetables. On a news broadcast that included the blunt message from environment ministers meeting in Poland that we are headed for extinction if we don’t act now. Not assemble committees and commission reports, but ACT, something politicians are usually unable to do because most are lawyers and the law moves so slowly it’s still in the 18th century. We are the first generation to know in detail the science behind climate change, and we’re also the last generation who may – may – be able to act before the planet becomes too inhospitable for any effective actions to be plausible. In fact it is probably already too late, so is this all just gallows humour?

Unable to broadcast a constant battle-cry for environmental action, so we don’t rubbish the planet and ourselves with it, the CBC, and other court jesters, did manage to ban from the airwaves a perennially popular song from 1944, “Baby, it’s cold outside”. Kudos, bold move! But really? I must have heard that song a few hundred times, and not once did it ever occur to me the lyrics were offensive, a brazen attempt at seduction precluding the female’s rights in such a situation. It didn’t occur to me probably because the lyrics are not in the least offensive. It’s cold outside, baby, stay here where it’s warm. Offensive? Manipulative? Nah, it’s just a lovingly cute conceit in a wintry song that evokes the things that enduringly please us this time of year. “It may have been acceptable back in the forties,’ said some kultural obersturmbanfuhrer, “but it has no place in today’s world.” I think this about a lot of music I hear these days, but I wouldn’t dream of telling everyone their songs are now banned, principally because I don’t like them. Such a problem has a remedy so simple anyone can use it: If you don’t like a song or a book or a film, don’t listen to it, read it or watch it. Who is this solution not good enough for? Ah, you. Well, ma’am, I’m afraid you are a tyrant in cheap clothing, beneath which are a thunderflash and jackboots. We cannot beam you back to the Third Reich, alas – no time machine – but might we suggest an acceptable alternative? It’s Saudi Arabia, where your problems are solved before they arise: all music is banned, along with singing and dancing. A few other things too, but you’ll discover those for yourself, as well as encountering a tremendous need there for more feminist thinking. Perfect? We have a flight this Friday, may I book you on it?

Does whoever in the CBC responsible for this joke think such bans should be extended to all the arts, ancient and modern, if they contain anything someone, or even just you, are offended by? Where to begin? Well, the Bible is a good start, many rapes, sexual chauvinism on a monumental scale, and gender inequality almost worse than Saudi Arabia. I could proceed on through the canon, then the oriental canon (oh, how that Li Po objectifies women!), and African ones, (Wole Soyinka’s male characters drink too much and treat women like chattels) but I think the point is made. We shall be left with nothing if the power to censor is handed to some humourless automaton, in state broadcasting or anywhere else. In fact I am an owner of the CBC, one of 30 million, and I object to censorship in any form being perpetrated by my public broadcaster. Today it’s a harmless pop song, tomorrow it’s Finnegans’ Wake or Lolita. Grow up, ladies, and lighten up too. You don’t want history to remember you as the one who banned “White Christmas” for its overtly racist lyrics – or do you?

A great deal of trivial nonsense flew around just before the French Revolution, possibly to divert attention away from the appalling enormities of a status quo, a 5 percent, who treated the other 95 worse than beasts of the field, squeezing them until many died of want, if despair didn’t get there first. This announced steep rise in prices begs the question: Why? We surely all know by now that Marx was ostensibly right about capitalism’s proclivity to devour itself, or like Saturn its children. Market volatility is a sign, but a volatile bond market is an veritable omen. That market is supposed to be so stable it’s boring, because it was always so safe, the yield-curves pleasingly stable and always heading in the right direction but slowly. Now yield curves are all over the place and prices are up and down like the Assyrian empire. This reflects a general governmental instability, because bonds are mostly government debt. Politicians are obviously on their way out of the rulership game, and no one trusts them because they’re all such untrustworthy liars, lining pockets while doing nothing for the public whose arse they once plated for a vote. In a sunnier age this could be overlooked, but not anymore. When life becomes less affordable we, the people will take a look behind the scenes. What will we find?

 

We will find that between farm or grower and buyer or customer there are layers of middle men and women who produce nothing except money. Every activity creates businesses within it, some of them vital, some not so much. And commerce itself has some gigantic enterprises within it that need to be examined. Take advertising and marketing. These two swallow up a goodly portion of any company’s profits, and they do the rest of us no good at all. One might say they even harm us by interrupting shows or films with moronic exhortations comprised mostly of shameless lies. Who needs this so-called “information of choice” that is the ad man’s clarion call raison d’etre? Not I. On the rare occasions I need anything new, I ask someone to go online and see what the consensus says about this or that product. I can honestly say that no ad has ever influenced me to buy anything at all ever. I don’t have TV in fact because the stultifying ads revolt me. I watch, or really just listen to Netflix because there are no ads. If this changed I would cancel my subscription. Film is or can be a serious art form, in fact it’s the dominant form of our age, and to watch a Bertolucci, an Orson Welles, a Scorsese, or a Bergman and have it interrupted by some inane jingle boosting unneeded rubbish is to me like someone gluing a puerile imogee over Picasso’s Desmoiselles d’Avignon, or spraying commercial graffiti on Michaelangelo’s David. Beside those working in it, is there anyone to defend the continued existence of advertising and marketing? No? Away with them then, which is bound to bring prices down.

 

Next we’ll be looking into other areas that suck up money the way an anteater inhales ants. Bureaucracy and the red tape preventing ordinary men and women from opening snall businesses – that will go. We’ll tolerate the consequences of less health regulations and the number of toilets the way we’ve tolerated mindless regulations for years. As capitalism staggers and heads for a terminal collapse, our elites will panic. I mean the one percent who have more than the rest of us combined. These are the people for who the police act as a private army (have you noticed how paramilitary the cops have become?). We shall see what happens in Paris when the police, who after all suffer too in a bad economy, refuse to fire on their fellow citizens, and even go over to their side, as happened in 1789. For a revolution, this is the axial moment. Once police or army, ort both are with you it’s all over. You seize the media broadcasters, or their towers of insolence, and you sit your new leader in a studio: Newsflash! The government has fallen and the Popular Front for Canadian Liberation is now in charge. There is no reason to panic. The police and army will protect us all. But things will change here. And things will have to change. Real liberty must be returned to us all, and those who impoverish us by their unconscionable profits or obscene severance packages must realise it’s all over now, that scam. Tax at a flat 10 percent for all, no exceptions, only necessities written off, all hidden assets confiscated. No more inherited wealth, leave them a house, it’s more than enough, and take pride in the amount you left for your nation. Narrow the gap between haves and have-nots, or else the have-nots will do it themselves. Now we turn to the banks, far trickier than anyone else, but essentially working an astounding angle for the last century. They take your money and loan it to someone else at a percentage of interest you cannot get for yourself, and then they actually CHARGE you for whatever you do with your own money. Amazing racket, no? And now they have encouraged everyone to borrow as much as possible, and spend, spend, spend, whether you need what you buy or not. Interest rates have been very low for very long (I don’t mean the credit card shy operators, who sometimes dare say 28 percent is low interest for them, which is true, and which will also shut their racket down). What we want is a currency actually worth its face value, thus backed, as it used to be, by gold or platinum. It’s important to remember that inflation is actually another tax, and in a tax-ridden nation we do not want another tax, do we? Income federal and provincial, GST whenever you buy or sell anything, vehicle taxation, property taxes, school taxes (if you have kids or not), and a thousand other insidious and invidious ways of taxing us that bring the overall tax rate here up to well over 80 percent. Anything over 10 percent I say is extortionate and antisocial. The free health care where I live is lousy, incompetent and sometimes even dodgy. We shall pay for it through a non-profit state insurance plan. We can now afford it and the system will be better or else forced to get better. Rid of all those who sit in between taking their cut like medieval barons, the economy will thrive like never before, no one in the middle to ad costs by producing nothing but their own wealth. This attitude will prevail in every aspect of commercial life. And it will need to.

 

Desperation will drive this or any country to revolt, and the desperation on its way to us now is a planetary catastrophe unequalled in human history. Survival will be everyone’s main concern, and pure survival brings out the ruthlessness in anyone. Those who cling to old ways and continue forms of theft will be dealt with harshly. It’s unfortunate, but then so is greed and starvation. Reps from the 20 most prosperous nations on earth have now told us the tipping point has passed. We and everything that calls this world home face appalling upheavals, cataclysmic weather and seismic events, and very probably an extinction of species not unprecedented but certainly never seen by human eyes, and one of those species will be our own. The long, long struggles of history, the glorious achievements in art and science, all of it for nothing, lost forever in time. It is indeed unthinkable, but just because we cannot think about it does not mean it cannot happen, because, my friends, it is happening already, and the top climate scientists – women and men who have warned us for years this was going on – aren’t exactly saying we told you so now, but they are pointing out that for all the decades they were ignored by governments their predictions gradually all came true, due to the stupendous inaction of those in positions of responsibility. Now they are saying that their new predictions cannot be averted so easily if at all, because, as was said half a century ago, beyond a certain point there is no possibility of reversing the damage done. Greenhouse gases, human activity, corporate farming techniques, a psychopathic need to burn fossil fuels, and most of all the kind of insane greed that denies the evidence of science for profits, these are among the causes for ecological worry cited over my entire lifetime yet not acted upon. Why? Because, yet again, all governments are controlled by big businesses who have no desire to see a bottom line disfigured by expensive changes to processes or machines merely to save the earth. Business thinks only of the next quarter’s report. Shareholders want to see better dividends, not a falling share price due to environmental restrictions. This ballooning disaster cannot continue, and public rage will be at such a pitch by then that those who placed their wealth above the welfare of all life on earth will be viewed as common criminals and sociopaths. True, it is a good way to build a business, but it is not good for an economy in the long term, and, as we can see, it isn’t good for anything else on the planet either.

 

Perhaps we shall go cap in hand to the Indigenous and ask them to show us a better way. After all, they were here for millennia and did no harm at all. Possibly we should return all the land boosted from them out of sheer guilt? Nonetheless, they know how to survive and be self-sufficient. Few of us know such things, and we shall need to learn very quickly.

 

One feels sorrow and shame for Americans, the only one out of 20 prosperous nations to refuse any action on global warming, with a president who might not understand a scientific paper but knows someone who could explain it to him, still announcing that he doesn’t believe in climate change. Science requires no belief. It is not like politics or politicians. Empirical fact is the essence of science, meaning facts that cannot be fake news because they’re verifiable by anyone. Trump’s followers may get no news except his news and whatever they call the stuff broadcast by Fox, but Trump himself has all news sources available to him. This makes his denial of the inconvenient truth an act of conscious evil – evil being defined as doing harm you are conscious of being harmful as you do it – and such acts are capital crimes when they involve, as this will and already has done, the lives of millions. Motive for evil deed? Profits for friends, family and self. No judge will be remotely lenient, especially if the country is bankrupted by the cost of global warming’s destructive effects, as will be the case. The US dollar will cease being a global currency, its value possibly wiped out overnight, as a debt so vast no one can even tell you exactly how much it is becomes due and there’s nothing to pay with. Creditors will seize assets, at cents on a dollar, so much of the country will be owned by the Chinese or the Russians and others. Not that America was ever great, but the risible slogan will come to seem cruelly ironic when China looks for cheap labour in Wisconsin or Ohio. Trump will forever remain as a cautionary tale, a symbol of what happens when morality caves in to money, and the public is deliberately deceived into electing someone who no one wants to do business with after doing business with him. He is a man too who represents all those whose wealth was obtained crookedly, by not paying contractors, lying to partners, as well as to everyone else including himself, and thinking of a deal only interms of how much he can squeeze out of it. That is a protection racket not a deal. For such a baggy ego this will be a dingy end indeed, yet I doubt if a single soul will feel pity for the Man Who Tried To Sell The World As It’s Warranty Expired. It is the grimmest time I can ever recall, and my heart goes out to those decent simple islanders in the South Pacific whose culture of millennia is inextricable from their island home, a paradise that will have vanished entirely under the sea within five years. Where will 300,000 people go to continue with their lives? What happens to their culture when their world has vanished? Perhaps our Indigenous brothers and sisters can answer this, along with all the other questions we shall have for them. Maybe the National Chief – is it Perry Belgard? – should be asked to head up a provisional government, at least while we all work out the essentials for a better world.

 

Your food prices rise next year, withhold taxes and demand to see the books explaining why the prices rose. Demand an accounting for every penny a politician spends. Every project suddenly costs $500 million – bridge repairs, scheme to help someone, aid to African country, whatever it is –  but when I want to build something and the estimate is $500 I question it, ask for a breakdown, check it all thoroughly. But the government just writes another check. Five years later we hear of massive corruption, bid fixing, kickbacks. Does our money ever come back to us? No, the system is broken, broken deliberately to allow what you have to leak out through the cracks into someone else’s pockets. It is time to make it new again. On that note I shall leave you with the end of Tennyson’s “Ulysses”.

 

Come, my friends,

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

robertspaulwilliam@gmail.com

The Saudi Check

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The tragic debacle over the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi is like one of those infinitely disastrous moves on a chessboard that suddenly opens up your opponent’s men to any number of deadly threats, hopeless defense maneuvers, and an almost certainly forfeited game. Or it would do if you were determined to win at all costs, rather than intent on allowing him to hurriedly rearrange his board and continue on safely. Trump plays to his base with talk of job loss and multibillion dollar profits if a Saudi arms deal is scuttled. But what or who is the Canadian Liberal Party playing to with its own reluctance to sever an arms deal with the Kingdom? This contract was evidently negotiated and signed by the former Progressive Conservative government, so the Liberals won’t take any blame. There is apparently a clause citing punitive fines if delivery of the military vehicles involved is delayed for any reason. Another clause, furthermore, apparently prohibits details of the contract and deal from being made public. Ergo: the sale must go ahead, no matter what the Saudis have done or will do – is that it? We, the people, don’t like this at all. For a start, the unconscionable killing on foreign soil surely overrides any contractual arrangement, making the idea of Riyadh trying to collect a fine laughable. Secondly, we find the notion of secret deals and contracts within the arms business, or little military-industrial complex, both obnoxious and unconstitutional. The public has every right to know who Canada is selling military equipment to, whether it is a barbaric tyranny like Saudi Arabia or the most liberal of liberal democracies. We demand that the government take some severe, effective and globally just steps to express Canadian shock and dismay at this abominable act, along with numerous other recent Saudi abominations, from gross human rights abuses to the often-lethal persecution of minorities and dissidents, as well as all female citizens. A diplomatic wrist-slapping is very far from enough, although only regime-change, trade boycott and asset-seizure seem reasonably sufficient. I have little hope that anything at all will happen, because when a cover-up is covered up you can be sure something else altogether is afoot.

 

Mohammed bin Salman no doubt views himself as monarch of all he surveys, a courageous omnipotentiary and ultimate authority from Red Sea to Arabian Ocean. His belief in this case is relatively true enough. The country is indeed an absolutist monarchy posing as a constitutional one with rigged elections and a noisy fanfare about trifling freedoms now granted (women can drive – whoopee! – but there must always be an adult male in the vehicle too, which, I’d say, tarnishes the glory of freedom slightly). If MBS were intrinsically regal and even a little courageous, however, he’d admit sole responsibility for the assassination of Kashoggi, citing his reasons for unquestionably ordering the murder, no matter how unacceptable they might be to most of the world. He will not do this, of course, and not because his reasons would be unacceptable – his reasons would be humiliatingly shameful is why. There has been an attempt to vilify Kashoggi as a terrorist with ties to radical Islamists, but this has not yet worked, largely because it’s provably untrue. But even a fat-headed bully like MBS isn’t prepared to say, “I ordered his death because he insulted my ideas and abilities, which hurt my feelings…” No one is buying the fantastically lame explanation that Kashoggi started a fight in the Saudi consulate, partly because the crew of hitmen was sent to Turkey a day before Kashoggi had scheduled his visit to the consulate, but mainly because, even without knowing the journalist’s gentle nature, the idea of him or anyone intelligent alone in a consular building starting a fist-fight is ludicrously unlikely. What other rationalizations will emerge from these dunces? 18 men have apparently been arrested, so says MBS. But who are these men and what do they have to say for themselves? Where is the body, for example? MBS says the so-far-anonymous assassins – one an expert in autopsies with a bone saw in his luggage – handed over the corpse to Turkish allies, colleagues, whatever they were, and no one in the hit squad knows who these people, these contracted colleagues, maybe even random strangers, are or what they did with Kashoggi’s remains. Is this even vaguely believable, that a body is handed over to unknown locals? It might be tempting to think these puerile explanations are a nose-thumbing at the world, as was recently tempting with Czar Putiin’s GRU clowns and their botched murder in Salisbury; but, as it was with Putin’s operatives, the Kashoggi murder-cover-up-then-cover-up-cover-up is a cock-up of epic proportions. As Talleyrand said of Napoleon invading Russia, it’s worse than an mistake – it’s a blunder. But this blunder seems to be posing as many problems for the western liberal democracies as it is for Riyadh, because some sort of punitive response is increasingly necessary – or it is if you wish to continue enjoying credibility as a democracy and upholding your belief in rule of law. There have been frowns and tut-tutting from most western capitals, yet a curious inertia sets in when it comes to doing anything appropriate or even proposing a viable course of reaction. Why?

 

Only Israel can reasonably claim Saudi Arabia as an ally (an ally against Iran mainly), and there have been solid back-channel relationships between Riyadh and Jerusalem for decades. The Saudis of course don’t want this cozy hypocrisy to be broadcast to other Arabs, because a tribal solidarity is supposed to persist, and the only rallying-cry Arab nationalism has ever managed to concoct is an anti-Israel bias – not that this heals the Shia-Sunni schism, or indeed does much at all beyond fanning the sputtering flames of Palestinian dreams. So Washington’s Israel Lobby has some justifiable strategic concerns about a souring of relationship with the Saudis. But all anyone else has as an excuse for inaction is the vastness of Saudi investments in their nations’ industries and corporations. Someone else can determine how many trillions exactly are in Canada, and who they’re with, maybe even who they control, but you can be sure it’s an awful lot of petrodollars. Are we worried they might sell out and invest elsewhere? Reduce the story to a murder-mystery and you will see how such a response looks in the microcosm of reality, where clarity is always clearer. But this so far is the only response we can descry, and amid the vacillation you can tell deals are being done while damage-control creates more damage than it controls. MBS has photo-op with Kashoggi’s son – a harrowing ordeal if ever there was one for a mourning child of any age. What next? Faked videos of MBS and Jamal as bosom-buddies? Not many foreign leaders are in much of a position to make demands on Riyadh, but Erdvan in Turkey is one of them. Initially, he seemed to hold a lot of cards. There was the search of the Saudi consulate, with its freshly-painted-over walls, and then something about Kashoggi’s belongings found in the trash, but not much comes of this. More significantly, though, is the sudden silence about the recording allegedly broadcast from Kashoggi’s Apple wristwatch to the I-Phone he’d left with his fiancé outside the consulate. It supposedly records what happened inside before and during the murder. There are many in Washington who claim people in the NSA, or one of its many wings, have heard some or all of this horrific recording. If so, it can only have come from the fiancé, or else Turkish authorities. Only Erdvan would have the power to confiscate or appropriate the I-Phone recording, and failing that he must know where it is – but where is it? We hear no more about it in the media, this recording that supposedly makes clear what happened in that consulate. Will we soon hear no more about the whereabouts of Kashoggi’s remains? The pompous blabbering lies of MBS currently embarrass anyone who would agree to believe them, so consequently no one does claim they’re completely believable – although Trump and others have managed somehow to make MBS laudably credible while at the same time doubting whatever explanation he floats for the murder he can never reasonably explain. If you don’t like the way this is going, then demand to know from your MP or MPP, Congressperson or Senator, the full extent of Saudi investment in your country and how it would be impacted by any punitive measures taken against Riyadh, or even specifically against MBS, who is, inter alia, one of the world’s richest men, through no effort of his own, naturally.

 

If you look at a map of the Middle East, you will notice all the states there mostly have straight lines as frontiers, a sure sign of the colonial cartographer at work, rather than nature’s natural boundaries, the usual frontier markers. This map was essentially created in 1919 at the Versailles Conference to carve up empire in the wake of World War One, regardless of ancient tribal enmities or even their loyalties. The British, with their propensity for class distinctions, created the monarchies and emirates, largely to reward collaboration during wars with Ottoman Turks. One glance at the shape accorded frontiers of Jordan tells you a slapdash cartography, or perhaps malice aforethought was at play. Given the current lamentable state of the major Arab states – the ex-monarchy of Iraq, and the chaos of Syria – is it not time to correct the imperialist blundering with something a little more equitable, redrawing the map of Arabia to make smaller autonomous tribally-sensitive regions? Not that I favor a two-state solution to the insoluble Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a viable Palestinian state could be carved from Jordan-Syria-and-Saudi Arabia without anyone in those countries even noticing the loss of territory, and providing something more than empty rhetoric for the Arabs to give to the Palestinians they privately say are not Arabs at all (and thus excluded from the benefits of pan-Arab nationalism, if there ever are any benefits from it).  Besides the south-western area that could be part of a potential Palestine, Saudi Arabia needs to be divided into a Shia province, a Sunni province, and possibly also a Yemeni province, with resources and wealth divvied up equally. Not all Arab states are still living in the 16th century in terms of sensibility and governance, but Saudi Arabia is, with MBS a sort of Henry VIII-figure, murdering critics, or anyone at all, with impunity, no check existing for his power or enormities. Is it not time to do Saudi citizens a big favor by freeing them from this atavistic kleptocracy and the foul Wahhabi cult it has generated for a religion? Wahhabism is analogous to Nazism in having hate at its core. The opportunity to make tragedies result in triumphs is not to be squandered when it comes, and it is palpably here with this outrageous and despicable crime. Pack MBS off to London with a few billion to spend, and see how his subjects manage on their own? It is possible today, but the window is narrow. Yet such a response would be adequately appropriate to the behavior of MBS and his cronies, as well as making a tragic and unnecessary death serve some higher purpose. Returning West Asia to its old tribal domains would, I think, return the area to some stability. All the Saudi elites have is their money, and stripping their assets is the least their actions warrant, so regime-change brings no danger or deprivation to the Saudi masses, and it potentially offers enormous advantages. This conflict between money and principles will prove riveting, and involving a journalist, as it does, is going to be irresistible content for the media. I’m backing Money as the favorite.

Against Democracy

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“The inflexibility of the laws can, in some circumstances, make them dangerous and cause the ruin of a state in a crisis. If the danger is such that the machinery of the laws is an obstacle, then a dictator is appointed, who silences the laws.”

 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract

 

We may well wonder whether Rousseau is stating a fact here or being prescriptive, if indeed he discerned any difference between the two. Popularly viewed as the Father of the French Revolution, and hence a progenitor of European liberty, equality and fraternity, Rousseau is often mistakenly regarded as a proponent of democracy, which he indeed viewed as a perfect system of governance but, he stressed, one that would only work for a perfect society, a society he characterized, inter alia, as “one of gods, not men.” He was in fact an advocate of the simple life, an existence close to nature, in tune with natural cycles and the land. It resembles Gandhi’s vision of an India consisting of villages engaged in rural tasks and farming. These prescriptions for harmonious societies would seem to conflict and contrast with Plato’s Republic, which is distinctly a city-state, yet they all flounder on the concept of democracy, its meaning and function. For Plato, democracy – from demos, loosely ‘the people’ – is undesirable inasmuch as it results in mob rule. He charts four stages of rule: timocracy (rule by property-owners), oligarchy, democracy, and finally tyranny. By ‘tyranny’ he means essentially what Rousseau means by ‘dictator’, the not necessarily bad rule of a strong central figure, who steps in to correct the chaos of mob rule and unite the state. In the tribal or kinship-based societies of Africa, Melanesia and elsewhere, this is the “Big Man”, a perceived natural leader chosen for the position, not born to it. In post-republican Rome such a government was symbolized by the fasces, the commonly-displayed image of an axe bound around by sticks, origin of the word ‘fascism’. We have become so accustomed to thinking of democracy as good and, largely thanks to Nazism, fascism being bad that we now seem to be incapable of an objective view of either.

 

I will limit this mainly to the Canadian situation for brevity’s sake and because it’s where I live. What is democracy in Canada? Well, it’s a vote for everyone of age, a vote they can cast basically for one of three political parties, the winner forming a government, often with a majority in the House of Commons that allows them to enact whatever legislation or reforms they have promised from their electoral platform. The party with the next most votes gets to form an official opposition, and generally spends the next four years decrying everything the government does. The third party, nominally socialistic in ideology, and usually the New Democratic Party, has the luxury of criticizing both parties and proposing reforms it will rarely if ever be called upon to put in place, which creates a tendency towards the impractical if not the downright fanciful, and always prohibitively expensive. While the two main parties present themselves as dramatically divergent in ideology and outlook, citizens are forced to concede that when it comes to actual government there is very little difference between them, and certainly scant difference in the public effects of their rule. Taxes remain far too high; the cost of living steadily increases. Those who can tolerate the schoolyard cacophony of tuning into parliamentary shenanigans are frequently forced to admit the experience is far from salutary and often close to embarrassing. The time and vast amounts of money taken up by committees and commissions – the answers to all government dilemmas – is dishearteningly wasteful, as are the billions apportioned to boondoggles, foreign aid – when aid is needed at home — the military, and countless other dubious enterprises over which the average citizen, who finances them, has no say whatsoever. Ruling parties often come a cropper with corruption scandals, but are rarely called to account for them in any meaningful way, beyond, that is, being short of votes in the next election.

 

What is it that makes up a voter’s mind about which party to vote for? True, there are people who rather inanely and illogically always vote for the same party, presumably wantonly ignorant or uncaring of the position taken on current issues. Perhaps sadder still are those multitudes who vote for a leader they imagine to be attractive or personable, as if a seemingly nice guy or gal cannot fail to be a great Prime Minister. Then there are all those whose vote is based on some envisaged personal gain: Pot will be legal: daycare will be free. And so on. Besides the first group, whose opinion was concretized somehow in a distant era, all of these decisions are based on media coverage in some way, or perhaps we ought to call it media manipulation. The grating shallowness and vacuity of many voters is frequently highlighted by man-on-the-street interviews, where you hear either the repetition of some party boast or slogan, or else mind-boggling nonsense usually addressing the interviewee’s pet peeve. And it is the amassing, measuring and categorizing of such peeves that parties scrutinize avidly for new avenues of vote-trawling. 49 percent think there’s too much immigration? Well, maybe we should say there is too much? Or should we say there’s not enough? What do the 51 percent think? It has nothing to do with the issue itself; it is simply about the votes. This is what Plato means by mob rule, the dictatorship of uneducated masses whose vote is obtained by the chanting of shibboleths: the swamp will be drained; tax dollars will be used to benefit tax payers; economic equality will be striven for; et cetera.

 

Should everyone have the right to vote? Yes, but only if they can prove they know why they’re voting and what for. I proposed a voters’ test years ago, to be howled at: fascist, elitist, and so on. I propose it again. What is wrong with a simple test that proves you understand the issues at stake and the positions taken by standing parties? It strikes me that the only possible objections would be from parties now unable to bamboozle, wheedle and con votes out of a vast chunk of the electorate whose uninformed vote is no more meaningful than the yells of a hockey crowd. But the elected government will place inestimable importance on those votes, proclaiming them as the mandate to do whatever it was they promised to do – although the outcome is rarely anything like the promo for it, and, no matter what happens, the rich will get richer, the poor sink slowly, and everyone else will struggle to remain above water. The rule of law is a boon trumpeted far and wide, but justice is far from just. To the well-off, a hundred-dollar speeding ticket is nothing; to the poor it is a day’s wages, the difference between surviving and suffering a little. This is not remotely just. Nor is a system that makes justice a commodity you can buy: the rich man or the corporation with lawyers on staff or retainer can tie up someone of modest means in a lawsuit that will either bankrupt them or impel them to abandon a civil action that may be just and honorable. The same is true for criminal cases: the person who can afford a good lawyer usually gets a far better result. Our prisons are full of poor people. It is said that anyone can run for political office, but those who have explored the possibility discover you need far more than good will to succeed at this: you need money. Little wonder that the ruling elites of whatever stripe, most but not all of them, come from affluent backgrounds, and some are multimillionaires. Many are lawyers, who earn a thousand dollars an hour or more, and are also trained to present right as wrong, or wrong as negligible. Without inherited wealth it is difficult, but admittedly not impossible, to thrive in business. Big corporations receive government funds – tax dollars – that are frequently spent on giving top executives annual bonuses amounting sometimes to a lifetime’s earnings for the average worker, who is taxed mercilessly on a pittance, and then taxed whenever she or he buys or sells anything, seeks licenses or permits, and in many more insidious ways. In return we get the system, its laws and police, who are surprisingly unhelpful if you ever need their help, and intolerably rude if you fall foul of them in your vehicle. Then there is the health care, which private insurance has to fund anyway for those expecting top-notch care, and which in some provinces is scandalously bad. The inequities go on, and on.   Is this the democracy promised in its brochures? No wonder the young are not voting in ever-increasing numbers. They see through the charade, realize it is merely a performance called Democracy and designed to create an impression that we have one, as if changing parties every four years were the very soul spinning there in the body politic, new brooms sweeping clean, a change finally arrived, the nation great again. Could a business operate on such lines, the owner and employees gone every four years? Perhaps it could, but the real question is why would it run that way, considering the expense involved and an incoming staff, even a chief, with little or no experience of the work? In fact government ministries rely totally on a formidable excess of civil servants who are permanent, unelected and ready to work for whichever government comes next, no matter if they find its stated policies detestable or conducive. The ruling party is then, in very real terms, a façade designed to promote a certain image with its specific message or messages intended to create for citizens the illusion that these people are different. Millions are spent on marketing, branding, psychological studies, niche identification and the innumerable vagaries of leading-edge advertising in order to conceive, shape and create such illusions. Nowhere is more being spent now than on the political weaponization of social media and the Internet. The news that Russia was doing this at home and in our home ought to have galvanized some dog-hole in CSIS rather than, as was the case, setting lightbulbs ablaze inside the brains of campaign managers and strategists, who immediately asked, “Wow, well how is that done, eh?” This, instead of drafting legislation to stop abuses and nail the perpetrators. The circus will now be a CGI show, hard to tell from the real thing, and sending you – just you – news morsels it just knows you’ll adore, because you’ve clicked like thirty times on this or that. They’re vampires of attention, because once they have yours – with some trifle or innocent vice – you’re their creature, moving up to the next level. With referenda like Brexit or Catalan independence, the fear is that an organization on the lines of Cambridge Analytica will be able to sway the vote by fair means or foul. The 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty – to be clear, the dismantling of Canada – was very close indeed. A digital push and the minority becomes a majority. In the recent Quebec election, an extraordinarily large percentage of the electorate was still undecided who to vote for a day before the election. These are voters easily lured by misleading promises or unwarranted warnings.

 

Why hold elections every four years? It is the performance of that drama created so you will know beyond all doubt you dwell in a democracy, one which has of late taken to US-style braggadocio in trumpeting “the greatest country on earth” and seizing on those spurious statisticians who announce “Canada: best country on earth to live for vegetarian flautists and ballerinas of larger body-type.” Statistics, as we know, can be manipulated to show any result desired of them.  A poll or a chart is not, I’m afraid, going to give you even the faintest glimpse of what really goes on in the halls, amphitheaters, chambers, back rooms, cabinets, weekends on the links or in Bermuda, and in the many late night bars where big decisions are made. There is so much for the enterprising investigative journalist here, but who will print it? Objectivity is vanishing fast from the media, so unless a voter is willing to research a bit independently her or his vote may well soon be yet another commodity bought by those who can afford it. Democracy is no longer what it ought to be and is far from democratic. Is it time to change the system to one where there are no parties or leaders, just elected (and thoroughly vetted) experts running the nation for the nation?

 

Regarding Rousseau’s opening quote: One instantly thinks of Doug Ford’s move to shrink town hall. If I trusted Ford and believed his motives were purely altruistic, I’d have to concede that smaller government is a good thing, a thing to aspire to everywhere. But the whole Ford family is too hand-in-glove with big business to be trusted, no matter how much ‘populist sloganeering goes on. What is wrong with big business and a thriving economy, you ask. Nothing inherently, but a corporation is legally bound to make decisions benefitting its shareholders, and legally not allowed to make decisions which will reduce profits. Such restrictions particularly affect environmental issues. A costly waste disposal system that will greatly benefit the environment and is not mandated by law will not be built because its price will reduce profits. Capitalism is a fine way to create and expand a business, but to keep the share price and dividends growing profits must increase quarterly, no matter how this increase is achieved. Lay-offs, reduced quality of manufactures, and other cost-cutting measures often result from this, and as a long-term principle it has obvious problems. Such huge concerns contribute much and in many ways, not all of them legal, to political campaigns. This is not done from sheer altruism of course, and what these companies want in return are a myriad of things only governments can do, from rezoning land to acquiring permits and licenses for all manner of activities. Needless to say, some of these perquisites will not be in the public’s best interests. While Ottawa or Toronto is not infested with lobbyists for vested interests the way Washington is, Canadian politics is far from free of them. The health of the economy is always presented as something of unquestioned good for all citizens, but this is not necessarily so. The increasing privatization of major utilities is provably not in the best interests of anyone, except perhaps the new owners. Such concerns should all be state-owned since they are so vital to the welfare of all. I would include internet service providers in this group too, since the internet is no longer a luxury toy and indispensable to all, rich or poor, young or old. If any of our governments had a real concern for our well-being they would have nationalized all such utilities and operated them on a not-for-profit basis. Instead all have perpetuated the lie that nationalized industries are always badly run and costly. Ontario Hydro users can attest to this falsity, now paying some of the highest rates in Canada for a second-rate, callous and avaricious service. In short, democracy has failed us and continues to fail, continuing also to masquerade as something it is decidedly not. As we watch the steady decline and fall of America, riven by corporate greed and corruption, along with a broken political system, we ought to give serious consideration, we the people, to taking back our governance before it is too late. Revolutions must be planned carefully, to make sure that what replaces the old is not worse than it was. This requires prolonged study and the good will of all concerned; but I believe it is possible in this country, more than most in the West, to evolve a planning committee dedicated to a reasoned approach to replacing what is crumbling and atavistic with something that fully reflects the decency and egalitarianism of the public, while not exploiting the ignorance of some. Change is not just another slogan; it is a viable possibility with an intelligent population such as ours. A better society can only come into being through will, effort and a clear perception that what we currently have is collapsing and, if people of good will do not participate in the transformation, will be co opted by far darker forces, ones whose best interests are their own. I’d be interested in hearing arguments against this modest proposal and for the current system.

 

What To Do About Saudi Arabia

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It seems that Mohammed bin Salman is about to admit that the journalist Jamal Kashoggi has been murdered, but he has no idea who did the deed or why. Some think he’ll say a “rogue element” did it, but if so it had nothing to do with him. If such an admission comes, what will we, the West, do about it? Nothing comes to mind, l mean doing nothing. If overwhelming evidence points to you as a murderer, and the police arrive with questions, would “I know nothing about it” have the cops thanking you and going on their way? No. Call it the Russian gambit, and it only works if you’re the absolute despotic ruler of a country. When a Putin or a bin Salman are asked if they committed a crime, they deny it. Does anyone ever say, “Yep, it was me, I’m the one”? It seems laughable when the media report these denials as if they might even be true. Last month MBS was threatening Canada with punishment for criticizing what’s risibly termed his “human rights record” – a broken record if ever there was one. Our critique was not only justified, it was absolutely essential to clarifying Canada’s position vis a vis international law. Now MBS is quite clearly the man who ordered a murder on sovereign territory of someone whose crime was… what? Criticizing MBS, and doing it reasonably and justifiably. If we attempt sanctions or some other punishment for this barbarous and illegal act, says MBS, he’ll punish us back and harder. Am I missing something here?

 

It’s been a while since any head of state asserted his right to do whatever he feels like doing, since absolutist monarchies pretty much died out in 1793, when Louis XVI went to the guillotine. Even North Korea seems to know those days are gone now. So the kingdom of al-Sa’ud stands alone, one man at the helm and doing whatever he wants to do with no opposition at all. I explained a few blogs back how Saudi Arabia functions, its royal princelings and princesses in the thousands, it’s religion a travesty supposedly based on Islam, its reins of power now in one man’s hands – one man who exemplifies the cliché of absolute power corrupting absolutely. But let’s be clear about this religion of theirs. Wahhabism has as much to do with Islam as Mormonism does with Christianity, and its central doctrines are ones of hatred and intolerance, vehemently towards “infidels” of course, but also towards all sects of Islam with the exception of Sunnis, who are nominal patrons. The lucrative control of Islamic holy sites, Mecca and Medina, is in Saudi hands, meaning the Shia, Ismailis, Sufis and many others cannot make the prescribed Haj pilgrimage under Wahhabi law. This law also condones mistreatment of non-believers, particularly us infidels, who can be robbed, cheated, defrauded, lied to, and abused in numerous other ways with impunity and the sanction of the Wahhabi faith, if you can call it that. So MBS has no spiritual qualms about lying to most of the world, although I doubt if the fate of his soul is something he gives much thought at all to. So here we have this barbaric throw-back to a medieval sensibility acting as if it’s a superpower, waging a unjust and brutal war in its back yard, treating women as chattels, beheading homosexuals, imprisoning anyone for any reason, with no rule of law worth the name, and now assassinating critics on foreign soil for reasons so flimsy they’re not even mentioned anymore. This is not some impoverished cess pit in the lower third of the Third World either. It is per capita one of the richest nations on earth, although these riches are controlled by around a millionth of one percent of the population. But to keep the hoi polloi docile the amenities and infrastructures are good, a hospital on every block, the cities clean and virtually brand new. There are really no rural areas to worry about since the rest of the country is basically a beach. Besides the total lack of any rights, there’s not much to complain about – unless you’re female.

 

Here’s a story I heard from a horse next to the horse’s mouth. One of the Saudi princesses, one of the thousands, went to study at the American University in Cairo. She found the slums and poverty of Egypt intoxicating, “so real” she said “after the sterility of my homeland”. Real life was appealing, as it can be. At university she met and fell in love with a westerner, a tall blond American boy. She told her family she intended to marry him and live in the US. The family blew up, ordering her home. She knew enough not to return, because she knew what happened to girls like her. But her brother, who she was close to, persuaded her to meet him in Cairo and discuss the situation amicably. She went to the meeting, where she was kidnapped and flown back to Riyadh in a private jet. She was locked in a special room on the roof of her family house. There were no windows, and she was forbidden any visitors and all conversation. Food was shoved in through a slot in the door. She’s been in that room now for fifteen years. Her food is still taken in, so she’s alive. But those aware of the situation believe she is now completely insane. This is Saudi Arabia. This is the place we are wondering how to punish for a state-sanctioned murder on foreign soil. And Donald Trump found MBS thoroughly convincing when he denied all knowledge of malfeasance. What exactly is going on between the US and Saudi Arabia?

 

The United States of Amnesia no doubt forgets now that the only airplane allowed to fly after the Twin Towers fell on 9-11-01 was the one taking members of the Saudi Royal family out of America. Why them and no one else? Well, the Saudi ambassador in those days, Prince Bandar, was to so close to the Bush family that he was affectionately known as “Bandar Bush” – and of course the Bush family business is oil. There’s another factor too: most of the 9/11 terrorist hijackers were Saudis (the rest were Egyptians), something never properly explained, researched or really even pursued. Instead, Afghanistan was bombed, and then Iraq was invaded. The fog of war conceals most irritating details. It does not, however, occlude the fact that funding for al Qaeda and Islamic State, along with other violent factions, comes principally from the Wahhabi clerics, who share Saudi wealth with the princes. It’s an hereditary clan, like the Mafia. Fast forward to now, and what do we find going on? Well, Trump’s son-in-law, the ubiquitous Jered Kushner, is said to have close ties with MBS, who himself is reported to have said, “Trump’s family is in my pocket”. Breaking with tradition, the first state visit Trump made as president was, not to reliable allies like Canada or the UK, but to, yes, Saudi Arabia. Why? What was discussed? We don’t know. But Jered Kushner is not a government employee, so his close ties must be about private business, no? The president burbles on about this $110 billion deal that’s in jeopardy, apparently, if the US imposes sanctions on Saudi Arabia. Oh, the jobs in danger, the GDP tanking, the sheer horror of losing any deal! But $110 billion is a pittance compared with the Saudi trillions invested in US corporations (they’ve got a pile in Canada too), especially aerospace and the arms mega-business. There’s been a lot of Saudi-US chatter over the past few days, and I imagine it’s about these invested trillions. MBS makes a few hundred million daily, so a few billion isn’t even worth his while. The question is this: Are the Saudis threatening to pull out their trillions and invest them in China or, God forbid, Russia? Or are the Americans threatening to confiscate Saudi assets wherever they’re to be found? This long and mysteriously chummy relationship can only be about money, money mainly in the form of oil. The combo of oil and money leads us inexorably to the venerable old Military-Industrial complex, which lives entirely on oil and money. The Trump family, individually and collectively, are heavily invested in this hydra-headed monster churning out death in a myriad of forms, and consequently needing many small wars running all the time to keep the supply-line busy. The Saudis obviously have a spanner somehow poised to be thrown into these works; otherwise who’d care what happened to them?

 

As I said last time, seizing Saudi assets would be an appropriate and deservedly painful punishment, because a punishment there surely has to be? The kingdom would make an amusing theme park, Despotworld or Tyrantland. But the situation is not really amusing enough for satire. Instead I will leave you with some wise words from one of the few wise men left in America:

“Let me finally return to Dwight Macdonald and the responsibility of intellectuals. Macdonald quotes an interview with a death-camp paymaster who burst into tears when told that the Russians would hang him. “Why should they? What have I done?” he asked. Macdonald concludes: “Only those who are willing to resist authority themselves when it conflicts too intolerably with their personal moral code, only they have the right to condemn the death-camp paymaster.” The question, “What have I done?” is one that we may well ask ourselves, as we read each day of fresh atrocities in Vietnam—as we create, or mouth, or tolerate the deceptions that will be used to justify the next defense of freedom.

— Noam  Chomsky, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” (1967).

The beat goes on and on and on, so where are those intellectuals willing and able to take responsibility for this latest abomination? What is it that is all it takes for evil to succeed?

Saudi Barbaria

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When Saudi Arabia threatens Canada for demanding the release of women’s rights activists there, my first reaction is to laugh, because I’ve always thought the place wallowed proudly in its panoramic abuse of human rights in general. Let’s take a look at this puffed-up, backward stretch of oil-rich sand, more a family business than any kind of state.

 

Cobbled together by Ibn Sa’ud, patriarch and owner of many goats, in the 18th century, it was a fractious confederation of semi-nomadic tribes, from each of which he took a bride, until British colonial plunderers gave it the nod as a “kingdom” – meaning it might have some utility as an “ally”, should the need for one arise. Then along came a man named Wahhab, according to his own parents deranged, who saw himself as, not a second coming of the Prophet Mohammed but a far greater being, one destined to be Caliph of the entire Islamic world. His version of Islam, essentially a heresy, resembled a penal code of unbendable rules, many of which ostensibly outlawed pleasure, music, dancing, and so on. Ibn Sa’ud saw great virtue in an alliance with Wahhab and the sponsorship of his “faith” chiefly because it solved his most frustrating problem. What the old sand-pirate craved to do most was raid the rich caravans coming from Persia, but Islamic law forbade a Muslim from attacking and robbing other Muslims. Wahhabism, however, maintained that other forms of the religion – Shia, Sufi, Aluwite, Ismaili, etc. – were not Islam, were in fact infidels who should be attacked and robbed. The Persians were of course Shia. This was music to Ibn Sa’ud’s ears’ and so a deal was struck which essentially divided the kingdom equally between princes of his house and Wahhabite priests. The caravans from Persia were now legitimate prey, and hostility between the two places remains bitter to this day. The Kingdom likes you to think its national religion is orthodox Sunni Islam, yet it is not. Proof of this came early too. When the Saudis annexed the holy city of Mecca, traditionally held by Hashemite Sunnis, there was inordinate bloodshed. But the biggest problem arose during the first Haj pilgrimage, when Egyptian Sunni pilgrims marched towards the city singing their traditional Haj songs. What to do? Remember, singing is banned in Wahhabism. After some debate, the Saudi troops slaughtered all the Egyptians, men, women and children, which adroitly fixed that dilemma. The Brits, who regarded the Middle East as their bailiwick, didn’t care what Arabs did to other Arabs – or didn’t care until there was a reason to care.

 

This came with oil, which it was agreed would be co-owned by Brits and Saudis. Under numerous distracting corporations, to avoid accusations of monopoly, this arrangement still continues, orient and occident, with America now more of the occident. By the seventies, everyone knew the Saudis were fabulously wealthy, because princes from the hereditary family business were throwing their money around in all the casinos and whorehouses of Europe. But what of the equally hereditary priesthood, who could hardly be seen at gaming tables or in brothels? What did they do with their share of the loot? Well, sad to say, they invested in spreading their despicable heresy around the globe with free schools and mosques (hard for a poor nation to refuse) that all espoused the hateful creed, that still vehemently denounces other forms of Islam (except the Sunni form, of course), whose adherents are recommended for execution, or indeed whatever enormity you fancy visiting on them.

 

I will state unambiguously that Wahhabism, the Saudi state religion, is entirely responsible for all so-called Islamic extremism, from Al Qaeda to ISIS and beyond. The notion of founding a “caliphate”, a major preoccupation of these factions, is precisely the same megalomaniacal fantasy that Wahhab himself dreamt up. Osama bun Laden, the 9/11 bombers, the Taliban, and every other murderous maniac crawling around the planet’s less fortunate areas – all Wahhabis or funded by Wahhabi money. Fact.

 

And these are the people – inspired by their new and obnoxiously self-important Crown Prince – who now threaten us? Saudi Arabia is the only place I have ever been that I thoroughly detested, whose menfolk – for the womenfolk are all imprisoned – I found uniquely uncivilized, whose culture I found non-existent, and whose social mores I found completely barbaric. Homosexuality is punished by beheading. Freedom of speech is unheard of, and if it peeps a teeny bit gets a minimum of a thousand lashes. A joint of pot is worth 20 years in jail or worse – and in Saudi Barbaria twenty years is at least twenty years. It goes on and, as I said, I thought they were pleased and proud of this medieval intolerance. Now I find that posturing buffoon at the helm is touchy about being advised to catch up with international laws… well, I’m inclined to say, ‘Let’s invade and free the women, along with everyone who is not a prince or priest.” Those parasites can be set to work building a submarine zoo for themselves.

 

robertspaulwilliam@gmail.com

Misappropriation of Reason

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With the closing of Robert le Page’s Slave, a musical of traditional slave songs, whose crime was having a white lead singer, an intensely irritating fly in the social ointment needs once again to be plucked out with tweezers and left to dry in the sun somewhere far away. For those in a rush who just want a bottom line, a slogan to pluck out like a brolly when rain falls from the clouds of cultural fascism, here it is: “cultural appropriation” is a two-word phase whose components are mutually exclusive – like, say, “jello engineering” or “dental confabulation” – which renders the term meaningless and the concept non-existent in reality. There is then no such thing as cultural appropriation, or its companion in semantic folly “appropriation of voice”, which in its overweening arrogance and pomposity tells me I have no right to include African or aboriginal characters in my stories, because only they are allowed to use their voices and will not be my ventriloquist’s dummy. We’ll get back to this captious twaddle.

Let’s examine what happened to Robert le Page’s musical, in so far as we really know what happened, at least. Is there anything inherently wrong about a white person singing songs originating with African slaves working the southern plantations? Of course not. How could there be? For if there were the whole history of American pop music would be wrong, since all its roots were sunk deep in those cotton fields back there in the beginning. Robert Johnson had the blues, so is that what permitted him to sing them? But are we then suggesting that Eric Clapton, the Stones or Led Zeppelin are too wealthy to get the blues so have no right to sing them? I trust not, because blues are a ubiquitous feature or malady of homo sapiens — one man’s not remotely comparable to another’s in terms of crushing severity. Who can say if Robert Johnson’s miseries were any worse or any better than Clapton’s, a man whose only son accidentally fell to his death from the window of a Manhattan skyscraper, a man who suffered heroin and alcohol addiction, laudably overcoming these demons. If blues cannot be compared per se, what then is left to differentiate between singers? Only skin colour, which may be a crude indicator of class in endemically racist America, yet even there, not to mention across much of the world it indicates nothing of the sort. When the controversy over Slave first arose, Le Page pleaded for his potential audience to see the production first, see what he had done with it, before passing judgement. It seemed the only possible rational response to a hubbub over something protesters had not in fact seen. What they’d heard about – white woman in lead role singing black songs – was more than enough proof for them to be utterly certain this was just more of the same old exploitation and abuse. Why, it was scarcely any different from enslaving us to pick Le Page’s cotton till our figures bleed. You pictured him prowling his stage in white straw panama, loose linen suit, a cheroot clamped between his yellowed teeth, and the bullwhip cracking as he demanded more heft behind that bale. O Lordy! The CBC had a virtual ER of overexcited Afro-Canadian objectors, one of them asked why she didn’t take up Le Page’s offer and see the show first before complaining about it. “I don’t need to see it,” she screamed in outrage. “Do I need to see the hotplate where I burnt myself to know it hurt?” The host was no more certain about this analogy than I was. “I know it will cause me more of the same old pain, so why would I subject myself to that?” No one dared venture the obvious answer: Because it might not be what you think… This attitude is, I suggest, essentially no different from the one in Nazi Germany that said all books and art by Jews are poisonous monstrosities and must be burned. If there was someone who suggested the books ought to be read first in case some weren’t poisonous monstrosities, he was probably thrown on the pyre as well to burn on top of Marx, Freud, Kafka et al. For this is facism, which loves censorship, and this is mob tyranny, which hates freedom of speech, and indeed most constitutional rights.

 

Although never stated as such, the real argument was basically that to sing slave songs you had to have come out of the slavery culture. Someone might just have a great-great-grandmother living who could honestly claim to have come from a “slavery culture”, but the great-great-granddaughter can only claim knowledge of post-slave culture, which was admittedly often worse than slavery, but still no worse in essence than that suffered by working classes the world over, and indeed sometimes even a little better. To hear millennials talking about the legacy of slavery in their genes or souls, the ongoing bitterness of it, its eternal penumbra shadowing their lives, it all made recall the TV shows, songs and dramas where this sort of emotional language was forged, and where their sort of neo-Baldwinesque rage personae were released to roam the Afro-American psyche. My people were also persecuted periodically, despised and abused, even enslaved, but I don’t feel their rattling tribulations smashing around my subconscious. They were other people, ones I never met, and they were long ago. It could happen again, and vestiges of it do occasionally surface here and there. But all in all things have changed and I’ll take my chances in a different world. Sure, ancestors of the old enemy roam in our midst, but these are mostly far from the old enemy themselves. They’ve changed as everything changes. If these objectors have been taught that the past is still present, then they have been ill-taught, for a lie is no lesson. Let their teachers un-teach these errors, especially the error of thinking that the past can be undone, rearranged to suit the present and its new needs. No historical revisionism, and certainly no apologies from officialdom unable to apologise for crimes in which they had no part, and no mollycoddling exceptionalism in society can ever alter what was done long ago. It may even be damaging, because the pendulum swings both ways, and if one pushes it too hard, the other will find its arc scoring a far larger swath over very different territory. What was gained will then be lost.

 

A less popular way of seeing all this is its reflection in an essentially neo-colonial attitude of indulgence. Ah, it’s only the blacks and the Indigenous. They’ve had a rough time of it, so let’s indulge their whims, eh? They don’t have much, so no wonder they’re trying to hold onto it. Humour them, because who really cares anyway?

In short, treat them like the children we’ve always regarded them as in our patriarchal world-view. That is not my world-view, however, and since I never had a father I don’t really understand what a patriarch is – except to know I don’t want one. I address all you culprits as adults, so kindly cease and desist your promotion of nonsense about “cultural property”. Such a thing is imaginary. It is not like intellectual property, which is someone’s creation. Feathers, beads, dances, drums, work-songs, foods, speech-patterns, none of it and any of the rest is the work of any individual. Traditions created them over centuries, and traditions are streams flowing from every direction into the river you think of as yours. Well, it’s mine too, brother. One of those streams is me, sister. You want a better world? Then help make it by knocking down your imaginary enclosures, you walls and fences, because the only better world there can ever be is one multi-world, where all are earthlings first and foremost, and then whatever they want to be after that. The human genome is the same in everyone, so, in scientific terms, race does not exist unless it’s the human race. When you tell me what I can and cannot do with my imagination, it makes me want to unpack all of your conceits and ill-informed assumptions. But you must know what they are, how much of what you now consider yours is actually from the hated colonisers. Even your beloved bannock, even your steel guitars… even your religion and sometimes your name too. Who has whose cultural baggage?

 

I notice lawyers on the whole stay out of this, knowing as they must that a can of worms the size of Trump Tower lies beneath it, waiting hungrily for the first fool to launch a suit and feel the floor beneath him deliquesce as he falls forever through an eternity of wriggling worms. The case might be something like: Cinderella is a Teutonic cultural artefact and cannot be adapted to suit the needs of an Urdu movie. After expert testimony from seventy witnesses, the court will be wondering if Cinderella originated in Indonesia, Africa, Asia Minor, Iceland, among the Sioux or Lakota tribes, in Tierra del Fuego, Uruguay, and any one of a few dozen other places where versions of the tale exist in one form or another. This will make Jarndyce and Jarndyce seem like summary justice. For it could never end, since all mythologies and all languages spiral down into a single vat at the end. It is of course all interrelated, so no one can appropriate what is theirs to begin with. You who pride yourselves on being more attuned to the mystic than the rest of us ought to use the facility to put your facts where your myths are. Do not divide, unite, as you claim to believe we must all do.

 

There was one plaintive but truer note in all the jargon and sloganeering over Slave. Someone said the lead role should have been given to a black singer because she was herself a black singer and could use the work. Honest if naïve. That a director of Robert le Page’s stature and radiant resume could be suspected of racial bias is preposterous and insulting. Anyone aware of his work could only be certain that he’d select as his cast the very best performers who auditioned for each role. The production itself could also be presumed to represent his finest work given whatever limitations might have existed, and his greatest efforts under any circumstances. I imagine the backers closed it down, thinking, like all moneymen, of the bottom line and any damage to their reputation. Put quotes around “thinking” because it’s only their euphemism for reacting. Had anyone actually thought, they would have realised this nonsensical codswollop could be stopped with a little pertinent straight talk. But political correctness – another vile misnomer – is a creeping distemper in the arts community reminiscent of the 80s herpes scare. You can be afflicted by someone who doesn’t even know they’ve got it. You can catch it by sharing a meal or a doorknob. And when you’ve got it you will lose all your friends and have to consort with others similarly afflicted. The slightest hint of a derogatory remark, even an innocent query – isn’t basket-making more of a craft than an art? – will see you flung into the outer darkness. So no wonder an Achilles did not appear to shout from the ramparts: “There’s no such thing as cultural appropriation!” But you’d have thought at least someone would have echoed Robert le Page’s suggestion, his very fair and reasonable suggestion: see it first. But none did. Those unwilling to defend imagination and the arts from censorship and tyranny in a thousand forms deserve to have no arts at all, since they already lack the quintessential imagination to house them and the vital courage to follow them wherever they lead.

 

Star Wars Redux?

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Last week, amid the outcry against grotesque in humanity at the Mexican border, President Trump – how those two words still sit so uneasily together, so incongruously! – ordered the Department of Defence and the Pentagon to create a sixth branch of the US Military he called Space Force. Its purpose? To make America great again beyond the ionosphere, out there in the universe. Another branch of the military? It does sound like the weaponization of space, doesn’t it? Well, a very clever East Indian fellow, whose name old age currently prevents from recalling, drafted the International Law governing outer space, and among the many clauses in this law, approved by the UN, is the prohibition of weapons there. It also declares all off-world bodies, moons, asteroids, planets, international territory, whose resources, if any, belong to the world as a whole. This may sound chauvinistic to any Venusians or Martians looking on, but from our point of view it certifies the solar system, the galaxy, and indeed everything else, as the communal property of our planet, the one presumed to be discovering everything. It’s not unreasonable, and won’t be until someone else comes along. Possibly no one has told Trump, and you can be certain he’s never read about it himself, that the Reagan-era Strategic Defence Initiative, popularly known as Star Wars, was in fact a sham designed to spook the erstwhile Soviet Union into throwing in the towel. That and an undermining of the economy by means of luring them into Afghanistan actually worked. The Soviet Union was bankrupted by trying to keep up with American financial exceptionalism, and the glorious age of Putin was born. Star Wars was a theoretical system of “death-star” satellites capable of shooting any incoming hostile missiles out of the middle air long before they reached America. Digital videos of the whole kit and caboodle looked very sci-fi and effective, as satellites zapped away at incoming threats left, right and centre, the lasers terminating old-fashioned missiles the way they do in video games. The trouble was that this in itself was a video game. The Pentagon of course never bothered to announce that the SDI was indeed a marvellous idea, but also one so expensive that the entire world together couldn’t afford it. Better dead than bankrupt was the message. But Russia and China believed SDI was in the works, and, unsurprisingly, thirty years later both of America’s eternal foes have rather pitiful versions of “death-star” satellites that can, or sometimes can in publicized tests, zap the satellites that pry into secretive doings on their stretches of earth or threaten their own wastelands of space junk. You can’t have this coercion going on, can you? Ergo: Space Force.

 

Let us theoretically posit that the UN’s Security Council is a monstrous aberration that negates the purpose of the entire rather useless organization. It’s just an hypothesis. So why is it that members of this Security Council always include Russia, China and America, with lesser, very grateful nations given a brief peek at what the big boys do? And what those big boys do – let’s call them RAC – is whatever the fuck they like. If criticized at all, it is by fellow big boys. All three of them have now broken space law, and who is calling for punitive measures? Perhaps no one? At least the international outrage is so muted that this latest American response – always belligerent – is… Space Force, war in outer space, more shame for this planet, if that is anyone else is watching. No outcry so far, no gnashing of UN teeth, probably because 95 percent of the planet views space exploration in much the same way as it views immortality. Yet for the rest of us the weaponization of space is very real, and a very real threat on the same level as the race for atomic weapons. The testing of “death-star” satellites way up there in the endless night will have unpredictable effects down here, from the disruption of telecommunications and data storage systems to the ever-more-likely event of space junk, a few tons of scrap metal, hurtling down to land in your kiddie park or wherever. The consequences of an actual shooting war up there are unthinkable.

 

Yet there he is, Space-Admiral Trump, the uniform tight, muscle-defining, as he salutes another platoon of space warriors on their way to do battle with Darth Putin’s scaly scum or the Beijingons. And no one objects? And no one points out that this is in fact illegal? Let the facts be facts, and life the thing it can, by all means, but don’t see yourselves as innocent bystanders when you can’t be bothered to rebel against monstrosity when it rears up on your watch. If we aren’t prepared to die for certain principles we have no principles at all.

The G6-Plus-One Summit

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A state that has to protect itself with military from its own citizens is, in Plato’s terms, a state sliding down the slippery slope from democracy to tyranny. This is what happened over the last few days at the summit of western industrial nations here in Quebec. Police outnumbered demonstrators. They may have been called “police” but for all intents and purposes they were the government’s private army – in fact their actual function at all times – in full riot gear, with shields, staves, guns with real and rubber bullets, flak-vests, and tear-gas launchers. It is a worrying spectacle to hear of a police force, allegedly existent “to serve and protect”, clad to do battle with those they’re supposed to be serving and protecting. Worrying too is the news that most demonstrators stayed away because of the massive and unwarranted police presence. This is not what a free society is all about, and it has been dismaying to watch as freedoms have been gradually given up, supposedly in the interests of public safety. As was said by wiser lips, “Those who would give up freedom for a little security deserve neither freedom nor security.” And the cost of this police-state jamboree? $600 million, we’re told. But with this cash-happy Liberal Government, no doubt it will eventually top a billion Considering the G7 debacle in Toronto several years ago, when hundreds of demonstrators were wrongfully arrested, also at an immense cost, why should taxpayers be expected to foot such inordinately steep bills? Who cares where western industrial dignitaries have their pointlessly inconclusive meetings, meetings their so-called “Sherpas” – insulting to the real Sherpas – basically have for them in advance anyway? Let them take place on a private island somewhere, with a few boats as the security.

 

One thing we know about Donald Trump – perhaps the only thing we know for sure – is that he’s no gentleman. One of the privileges, probably one of the few, accorded to the mayor of the small town where this summit was held was the right to personally greet arriving world leaders, no doubt for a photo-op. But not Trump. Oh, no. He was far too grand and important to handy-dandy with so lowly an official. He arrived late and cut his visit short too. How obnoxiously insulting to the leaders of the only countries America can really rely on as allies! The man is so far beneath contempt his head or arse must be poking out in Australia, and his contempt for his peers is pushing the US ever further into the backwater it’s destined to occupy for the rest of history unless policies and attitudes change. It’s not such a powerhouse anymore. The leaders themselves have been calling the erstwhile G7 the G6-Plus-One for some time now, with the US pulling out of or refusing to sign mainly climate accords. If this goes on, it will just be the G6, and as such can still competently lead the western industrial world without Washington. We know from Trump’s disastrous lack of success in business ventures over the past couple of decades – only Russian banks would lend him money to continue – that business is not his forte. Marketing is that. But to hear him at the summit declaring that Russia should be present as a member was rich beyond belief. In fact Russia was kicked out of what was then a G8 when Putin invaded Crimea and attacked the Ukraine. They won’t be allowed back either, or not until they reform their policies. America may well be heading in the same direction. Trump’s lack of business acumen, manifest in his trade tariffs, and his unwillingness to read reports or to be advised, clearly prevents him from knowing that the Great Depression wasn’t caused by a stock market crash – the only disaster he seems to comprehend. It was caused by a trade war, the kind of war he imagines is easily won. In your dreams, scumbag, in your fetid dreams.

 

robertspaulwilliam@gmail.com